This week, the mass-market fashion retailer Topshop—which is based in London but has stores in select cities in the U.S.—selected a heated jacket as the winner of its first annual wearable tech competition, called Top Pitch. The contest is the latest effort by mainstream fashion retailers to incorporate wearable technology into their collections.
The jacket, created by the Brooklyn design consultancy The Crated, incorporates the startup's flexible, printable conductive ink and material called INTELiTEX. The technology hinges on electrical circuits that can be woven into textiles and programmed with a range of different functions, from clothing that can detect stress to light-up construction gear. For the Topshop bootcamp, The Crated used the soft circuitry tech to create a blazer that heats up in cold weather.
The Crated was founded by entrepreneur and Thiel Fellow Madison Maxey, and specializes in smart textiles and experimental smart apparel tech like shirts that reveal patterns when exposed to UV light, developed in its lab at the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator.
Topshop's bootcamp invited three teams to develop a pitch for wearable technology with the potential for mainstream commercial success, with guidance from mentors like fashion journalist Rachel Arthur and designer Bethany Koby. At the end of the four weeks, the teams pitched their prototypes to Topshop designers and the British businessman Sir Philip Green. The two other teams include Luma Legacy, the makers of smart charm jewelry and Pins Collective, the developers of app-connected digital badges that users can change and customize themselves.
So will we ever see the blazer in stores? In its competition brief, the company keeps it vague, saying that "there is the opportunity to explore further investment throughout the program." According to Wareable, Topshop's bootcamp announcement describes the prospect of investing in and stocking the winning item, though there's been no confirmation of that thusfar. Co.Design has reached out to the company for more detail.
Topshop is far from the first mass-market retailer to pair up with a technology company on wearables. For example, Intel has collaborated with labels like Chromat and Opening Ceremony. Meanwhile, Fitbit has had success pairing up with fashion companies like Public School, and Burberry has collaborated with Apple on the Apple Watch. However, we've yet to see the reverse—fashion companies integrating wearable tech into their lines—in a comprehensive way.
Wearable tech can verge on gimmicky unless it hits the sweet spot between useful functionality and style—not to mention discretion. The Crated, however, thinks the future of smart clothing is integrating technology directly into the fabric we already wear, rather than developing accessories like bracelets or watches. "We're excited that big, high-street retailers like Topshop are seeing wearables as something that's more than a gimmick, but as a true and useful consumer product sector," Maxey told Wareable. "Being part of the Top Pitch program allowed us to understand how Topshop is viewing the smart clothing market and how startups like ourselves can create tools and technologies that feed into that view."
If a partnership between Topshop and the startup does develop out of the win, it's easy to imagine more of Topshop's clothing having the added benefit of heat without compromising on its signature style.